PREVIEW: Cardiff Blues v Gloucester

Thu, 10 May 2018 12:06
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CHALLENGE CUP SPOTLIGHT: Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson is predicting "a really exciting game" when his side take on Gloucester in this season's European Rugby Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao on Friday.

The Welsh region are chasing a second Challenge Cup after victory in 2010, while Gloucester are looking for a third success after wins in 2006 and 2015. 

"Both teams have got strengths and both teams will want to try and put their imprint on the game," Wilson said during their Challenge Cup final media day. "I think it's going to make for a really exciting game. 

"Both of us have got real 'X-Factor' players and I think that both of us will try and play some rugby.

"You can't get all romantic about it and be all things to all men, so we won't be a million miles away from what is our DNA and Gloucester will be the same. 

"Looking at Gloucester, they play a huge amount of rugby. They've got an identity that has been put in place this year. 

"But there are certain elements of the game in terms of a game plan that we want to try and put in place to beat what is a very well-drilled and well-coached Gloucester team." 

He added: "These are the games that we all want to be part of and we're all massively looking forward to." 

"I know that they will be mad for a European final like we all are and that they will be well prepared. 

"I think that emotionally they'll be in a place where they'll be bouncing to try and turn us over, but I think that we're in that same place. 

"For us, being in the Champions Cup gives us that first achievement that the Blues will be in that main competition next season and now we want to go one step further and see if we can win some silverware."

Meanwhile, Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann is looking for his team to rise to the occasion.

"Obviously, we've had two disappointments in the past two weeks. But, if you look at the Challenge Cup in isolation, we've played well, except against Pau, and got into the quarterfinals which was a game which stood out for me because the guys did well to give us that home semifinal," Ackermann told the team's website.

"We've overcome that hurdle and given ourselves the chance in the Final, and hopefully the players will embrace this and put in a good performance to give ourselves an opportunity to lift the trophy and make everybody proud of the season.

"Cardiff are deservedly in the Final. They're a team with a lot of threats - a very good loose trio and a very good backline. 

"They're a side who will fight for everything and I think it will be a great final between two sides that play a decent brand of rugby."

Head to head:

Gareth Anscombe v Jason Woodward

These two fullbacks have come to the fore in recent weeks, excelling in attack to provide a threat from deep.

Blues have played their best rugby in the Challenge Cup this season, with Anscombe providing the winning try against Pau that sent them to the final.

The 26-year-old has seen a peak in form at just the perfect time for the final having scored in his last two games, including a wonder try against Ospreys where he danced through numerous defenders to touch down.

Having played most of his rugby at flyhalf, Anscombe has the brain to pick some incisive lines while also providing another option at first receiver to pull the strings when Evans is out of the phase.

However, Jason Woodward has constantly impressed this season as well and has been central to much of Gloucester's success in the Challenge Cup and the Premiership.

Woodward was man-of-the-match in Gloucester’s semifinal victory over the Falcons, with the triple threat of his electric pace, power, and intelligence forming a deadly attacking presence.

Setting up two tries in that semifinal with his blistering pace and smart offloads, the 27-year-old performed so well that there have been claims he deserves an England jersey for the South Africa tour this June.

With the two fullbacks lining up opposite each other on Friday, it may come down to who is the most clinical and can make the most of their chances on the big stage.

Ellis Jenkins v Ruan Ackermann

Not only will the game be won by who is more clinical, but the battle at the breakdown is a huge part of building the platform for success and these two flanks will be instrumental in that.

As the outstanding player in Blues' semifinal triumph, Ellis Jenkins will be going into the final with confidence.

The 25-year-old proved a threat at the breakdown against Pau, stealing ball after ball in the ruck and winning vital penalties for his side that provided flyhalf Jarrod Evans the opportunity to kick Blues to safety.

This was demonstrated in the game’s final moments as he won yet another penalty at the breakdown to seal the victory with Pau threatening a late comeback, a feat he has performed all season long.

Facing off against Jenkins on Friday night will be youngster Ruan Ackermann, who has been sensational at Gloucester in his first season.

Ackermann has been dangerous with ball in hand, scoring three tries for the Cherry & Whites while also making 259 carries in the Premiership this season, the second-most from any team.

The flank has also made 220 tackles and 12 turnovers in the league, while he scored Gloucester's first try in the Challenge Cup this season in the first game against Pau to get the West Country side on track.

Both will be hoping to influence the game in Bilbao but only one will end the match victorious, and their performances may well end up deciding the game.

Prediction: This will be the second meeting between the clubs in the Challenge Cup. Gloucester won last season's quarterfinal clash 46-26. The last three Challenge Cup finals have all been decided by a single figure margin, a sequence that started with Gloucester's 19-13 win over Edinburgh in 2015. Gloucester are bidding to equal Harlequins' record of three Challenge Cup titles having won in 2006 and 2015. Cardiff Blues are the only Welsh side to have won a European title beating RC Toulon 28-21 in the 2010 Challenge Cup Final. Gethin Jenkins and Taufa'ao Filise both started that match in Marseille while Scott Andrews was on the bench. The Blues have averaged 16.9 points and 1.9 tries per game on their way to the final. Only Oyonnax (1.8) have averaged fewer tries in the competition this season and only Enisei (15.2) have averaged fewer points. Conversely, only Edinburgh (5.7 tries, 41.1 points) have averaged more tries and points than Gloucester this season (5.6, 39.9). Gloucester have won a competition high 98 percent of their own scrums this season, losing just one of 58 against the head. Jake Polledri has beaten 28 defenders in his seven appearances, the most of any forward this season. He has also completed 95 percent of his 65 tackles and won eight turnovers, while his total of 323 metres is the second most by a forward and the most by any player in the Gloucester squad. Thirty-seven year-old Gethin Jenkins, who played in a losing Challenge Cup final with Pontypridd in 2002, and who captained the Cardiff Blues to victory in 2010, could become the first player to lead a winning side in two finals. Gloucester will win by seven points.

Teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Owen Lane, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tomos Williams, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Ellis Jenkins, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Josh Turnbull, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Tau Filise, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Kirby Myhill, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Garyn Smith, 23 Matthew Morgan

Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Henry Trinder, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Ed Slater, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Andy Symons, 23 Tom Hudson.

Date: Friday, May 11
Venue: San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy with a temperature close to around 9°C at kick-off. There is also the possibility of showers.  
Kick-off: 21.00 ( 20.00 UK & Ireland time; 19.00 GMT)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Pascal Gaüzère (France)
TMO: Philippe Bonhoure (France)

Source: @ERChallengeCup, @PRO14Official & @gloucesterrugby

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